During our time in the Cameron Highlands, we had the opportunity to meet a lovely young woman named Bella. We were curious to know more about her from the get go, as she wore the biggest smile we’d come across in Malaysia.

After sitting down to interview Bella about happiness, we discovered her thoughts mirrored those of many other Malaysians – especially from rural areas. So it seemed, enjoying time with nature and escaping the stresses of urban living were the keys to contentment.

Beyond her insights on typical Malaysian ideals, Bella offered a unique perspective on happiness as a transgender woman living in a predominantly Muslim country. She explained how being accepted for who she was – by family, the local community and society at large – would bring her joy.

It was gut-wrenching to think that a woman who treated absolutely everyone with respect and kindness was, at times, made to feel like she wasn’t worthy of the same treatment simply because she was transgender.

What made Bella even more special was the fact that her indigenous culture brought her up to be (seem?) eternally positive. In a situation where so many of us would feel sad, angry and resentful, Bella’s indigenous heritage taught her to maintain a brave, happy face.

Meeting Bella was an incredibly moving and interesting experience. While she was in a complex situation, her needs seemed so simple: time with nature and being accepted – especially by her family. Considering she had an obvious passion for fashion and beauty products, her love of the simple life was equally as unexpected.

It goes to show, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – its story is always more wonderful.